Women at greater risk of death after heart attacks due to doctors treating men differently, finds report

Women are three times more likely to die than men in the year after suffering a heart attack because they are not being offered the same treatment, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Leeds and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that women were less likely to be offered life-saving treatments such as bypass surgery.

After analysing 10 years of health data from 180,368 heart attack patients, they found that the excess mortality rate – the number of extra deaths beyond what you might expect in the general population – was up to three times higher for women than men, in the year following a heart attack.

Women who suffer a STEMI, a serious heart attack which left the coronary artery completely blocked by a blood clot, were 34 per cent less likely to receive bypass surgery or stents.

They were 24 per cent less likely to be prescribed statins to prevent further heart attacks and 16 per cent less likely to be given aspirin to lessen their risk of blood clots.

If all the treatment recommendations were followed for both sexes, the research found that the gap in excess mortality decreased “dramatically”.

“We need to work harder to shift the perception that heart attacks only affect a certain type of person,” said Professor Chris Gale from the University of Leeds, who co-authored the study which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“Typically, when we think of a heart attack patient, we see a middle-aged man who is overweight, has diabetes and smokes. This is not always the case – heart attacks affect the wider spectrum of the population, including women.”

He added: “The findings from this study suggest that there are clear and simple ways to improve the outcomes of women who have a heart attack – we must ensure equal provision of evidence-based treatments for women.”

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the research said more women die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer in the UK.

“The findings from this research are concerning – women are dying because they are not receiving proven treatments to save lives after a heart attack,” he said.

“We urgently need to raise awareness of this issue as it’s something that can be easily changed. By simply ensuring more women receive the recommended treatments, we’ll be able to help more families avoid the heartbreak of losing a loved one to heart disease.”

While the new study has focused on Swedish health data from 2003 to 2013, the situation is believed to be even worse in the UK, as the Scandinavian nation has one of the lowest mortality rates from heart attacks in the world.

Past studies by the British Heart Foundation also found that women were 50 per cent more likely to receive a wrong diagnosis initially and were less likely to receive relevant diagnostic tests.

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